Just like our old pal Ted, I’m a little afraid to let Jeanette go. For those who haven’t been keeping up, or who are just lousy with names, Jeanette is the latest Mosbian love interest who’s short a few screws — played with wide-eyed lunacy by Saturday Night Live veteran Abby Elliott, Jeanette has provoked many an agitated eye roll from the How I Met Your Mother viewing audience. Embodying a collection of obnoxiously outdated — we’re talking ‘90s standup comedian outdated — ideas about women (Jeanette is basically one big “B**ches be trippin’” joke), it’s hard not to shake your head in tired disgust at the sitcom’s latent sexism. So why, then, am I apprehensive over saying goodbye to the character? It’s odd. Despite my aversion to everything she stands for, I can’t help but accredit Jeanette and portrayer Elliott with at least a portion of HIMYM’s recent metamorphosis: it’s funny again.
Not exactly up to the caliber of the show’s early seasons, but refreshingly laughable enough to make us see a long dead resemblance to that old favorite. For the past few weeks, HIMYM has spat out some pretty enjoyable episodes. And while there’s that old adage about causation and correlation, the timing coincides exactly with Jeanette’s arrival into the program’s universe. So, science be damned (it’s for nerds anyway) — this whole new golden era rests solely in the hands of Elliott. And now she’s gone.
We knew she’d be ousted soon enough, with premonitions expressing that she’d be the one to finally launch Ted into his ultimate monogamy. And this week is the boot: one final act of crazy by Jeanette convinces Ted to stop dating and finally find the One.
Which, to any longtime HIMYM viewer, makes absolutely no sense. But hold your horses there, Django. Let’s mull over this week’s course of events first.
Ted and Jeanette break up in the first act of the episode, for some flimsy reason or another. Barney, dead set on keeping Ted from returning to her clutches (the show’s mentality, not mine), revives the Playbook to help his pal win over a strange lady in their stomping grounds, MacLaren’s. Two things. First: wouldn’t word eventually get around that MacLaren’s is an unsafe location for any young woman, due entirely to the pair of 30-something lechers who’ve been haunting the dive for the past decade and change? Second: Didn’t Barney burn his Playbook when he proposed to Robin? One of these issues is addressed.
Barney burned a decoy. This whole time, after that elaborate display of affection, he’s been harboring the real Playbook just in case. Kind of despicable. But it gets worse.
When Robin finds out about Barney’s secret — following a series of ill-conceived ploys to earn Ted some aloof coitus — she lashes out at him for the lie. A perfectly understandable complaint, we’d all agree. But instead of apologizing or promising to change, Barney upholds his deceit, saying that he is, at his very core, a liar. He lives to lie, to put on a show, to misdirect. But beneath all that, he loves Robin.
And that freaking works.
Seriously! Unless this show is setting up to break these two apart forever when Robin finally comes to her senses — and it might be, there have been hints — then what we have is intellectually and emotionally offensive. She shouldn’t be okay with this! No one should! He’s a freakin’ a-bag!
Even when he does submit to destroying the real Playbook at the end of the episode, that hardly makes up for his pledge to always be a liar!.
But maybe, maybe this whole travesty is leading up to something that will excuse and forgive its most heinous qualities. Misdirection isn’t only Barney’s M.O., it’s also the show’s. So, benefit of the doubt.
Eventually, Ted and Jeanette do get back together… briefly, before she discovers Barney’s Playbook in Ted’s apartment, goes absolutely bananas, and destroys everything in her once-again-ex-boyfriend’s home: the final straw in making him realize that he’s ready to settle down.
Therein lies a logical folly. Or just a bit of rampant hypocrisy. Since the freakin’ pilot, we’ve understood Ted to be a man who truly wants to settle down and find the love of his life. His problems are not in his unwillingness to commit, but in his over-willingness. Ted’s character is founded on his desire to get married. He’s not a free-wheelin’ bachelor like Barney; quite the antithesis. As such, this episode doesn’t real like a revelation as much as it does a regression. We’re back where we were eight years ago: Ted affirming that he wants a wife. But now, we’re only a few weeks away. Ostensibly.
This all might seem like a whole lot of negative criticism for an episode I implied to have been mightily enjoyable. While I might take issue with the character beats for Ted, Barney, and Robin, I do find their latest antics more energetic and vivacious than usual. But the real win comes along with Marshall, who can work some of the show’s greatest magic when all the cogs are in place.
Good-natured Marshall accompanies Lily to an art show, and very simply, just tries to not be bored. That’s his story. He tried to get along with the highbrow artsy types, making bad puns and Ninja Turtles references, but to no avail. Then, during an extended moment of silence meant to tribute the featured artist’s late grandmother, Marshall spills an entire bag of Skittles, eliciting a predictable but quite humorous cacophony. Marshall’s overeager attitude, his resentment of his tie in the race for Most Outgoing during junior year of high school, and the dramatic sting that would accompany ever mention of the Skittles leading up to the bag’s ultimate eruption make for some highly silly, largely unsubstantial fun. It’s funny. It doesn’t have to not be idiotic. It’s funny.
But back on the real meat of the show. Ted has regressed to Pilot Era Ted. Barney is a borderline sociopath. Robin is an enabler with a weakness for Barney’s charms. All kind of dumb, some kind of offensive. But if it works out soon, with a mother or a wedding or another Skittles spill, then maybe we can forgive all this nonsense.
For the record, Marshall’s “Vincent Van Gogh to the bathroom” gag is a comic gem.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
[Photo Credit: Robert P. Jaffe/CBS]